Category Archives: Great Smoky Mountains National Park

Cemeteries of the Smokies

Cemeteries of the Smokies

Ever since I got really involved in hiking and supporting Great Smoky Mountains National Park and its park partners, I’ve heard of “the cemetery book.”

When I joined the board of the Great Smoky Mountains Association (GSMA), Steve Kemp, editor and publisher for GSMA, now retired, said that the book was “coming along”.

Now Cemeteries of the Smokies by Gail Palmer is here!

Flipping through its 704 pages – yes, 704 pages – I can understand why it took Dr. Gail Palmer two decades to finish it.

If you’ve walked almost anywhere in the Smokies, you’ve encountered cemeteries – the Woody cemetery in Deep Creek, the cemetery outside the Little Cataloochee Baptist church, the ones on the Cades Cove drive.

But Palmer found 152 cemeteries. For each site, she provides in-depth histories alongside a complete listing of burials and dates, kinship links and epitaphs.  The author has collected this infomation in one place, displayed with color photographs, detailed lists, charts and an index of local family names.

Dr. Gail Palmer has a doctorate in cultural studies from the University of Tennessee. She’s written novels set in the Smokies and understands mountain life. Members of her mother’s family has lived and died in areas that are now in the national park.

Wiggins Graves

“While finishing my doctoral degree in cultural studies at the University of Tennessee, Knoxville, I decided I wanted to write a book about the Smokies,” Palmer said.

‘“I knew many of the cemeteries were hidden away from view in beautiful locations, sometimes only a few steps from a roadway or well-traveled trail.” She received help from many people and spent hours searching archival material and locating cemeteries.

As a hiker, I want to know that the trail directions are clear and correct. I tested them on the Hoyle cemetery, a four-grave cemetery that I found only with the help of my companions at a Decoration Day years ago. The directions in the book were spot on. Maybe I’ll create a new hiking challenge – find all the cemeteries in the Smokies, as described by this book.

Buy this book from the Great Smoky Mountains Association, a park partner that donates money to the park.
See

The Details
Cemeteries of the Smokies by Dr. Gail Palmer, published by the Great Smoky Mountains Association, 2017. ISBN 978-0-937207-92-5. Price $29.95.

Hunting for a Cabin in the Smokies

Today, I scouted the December hike for Friends of the Smokies (FOTS). Marielle Dejong, Outreach & Development Associate, and I met at a parking area in Elkmont on the Tennessee side of Great Smoky Mountains National Park.

Bridge to the Avent Cabin

I had walked the Little River Trail many times and then through the Elkmont neighborhoods. But today, we were also going to find the Avent Cabin.

Sarah Weeks of FOTS sent me an article on a cabin owned by Frank and Mayna Avent.

Mayna (1868-1959) was a regionally famous painter from Nashville who was classically trained in Paris.

She and her husband bought the cabin in 1918, close to local mountain people who lived there year-round. Mayna used the cabin as her summer studio, where the Smokies mountains was her inspiration. If you search out Mayna Treanor Avent, you’ll find pictures of her work.

Like all people who lived in the general Elkmont area, she sold the cabin to the National Park Service in 1932 but leased it back. Her family continued to use it after the painter’s death. But as years were numbered on the lease, her granddaughter saved the cabin by putting it on the National Register of Historic Places. Otherwise, it probably would have been dismantled like her neighbors’ homes.

At the Avent Cabin

Today, with some directions gotten on the web and a lot of searching and some fruitless bushwhacking, Marielle and I found the cabin. It is not on a maintained trail.

We could only get in the outer room of the cabin, where we found a copy of the application for the National Register and a copy of an article by Courtney Lix in Smokies Life Magazine(Volume 4 #2). The article, published by the Great Smoky Mountains Association, answered several questions:

How is the cabin maintained? Look at the picture of the bridge above? It is better than most of the Smokies bridges on officially maintained trails. The Frank and Mayna Avent Trust was created by the family, I assume, to provide funding for the cabin’s maintenance. Friends of the Smokies oversees the flow of the funding to the park.

The answer to the second question is not as clear. How did Frank and Mayna Avent get to the cabin? Come on the hike and see.

I’ll be leading a hike through Elkmont and up to the Avent Cabin, on Tuesday December 12. Go to the FOTS events page to sign up.

I’ll lead the hike, if and only if our government passes a budget and doesn’t shut us down. Yes, we’ve been on that path before.

Sign up!

Friends of the Smokies Lake Shore Hike

Our FOTS group

Yesterday, Gracia Slater led the November Friends of the Smokies hike. Gracia is a two-time completer of the Smokies 900M; that means that she’s done all the trails in the Smokies twice.

I’ve done this hike so many times, first for my first hiking guide, Hiking the Carolina Mountains, then with Carolina Mountain Club and Friends of the Smokies.

What could I say that’s new and different?

To begin with, the hikers are different. A couple of people had never done this hike before. The water in Forney Creek was running high.

 

Forney Creek

Without all the history bits that I relate when I lead it, the hike went a lot faster. We had our lunch at Campsite #74.

We also took a detour on Lake Shore Trail to a finger of Fontana Lake. See the picture above. You can see that at various times, the lake is higher than it was yesterday. TVA controls the level of the lake to its needs.

We continued on Lake Shore Trail and took a side trip to the Woody Cemetery. The most fascinating aspect to this cemetery are the eight graves that say “Infant Freeman”. Imagine losing eight babies.

Last time I wrote about this cemetery, I speculated that the babies died before they were even named and baptized because of an Rh Factor incompatibility. I haven’t found anything else that explains these grave stones.

Eight Baby Freemans

But this time, I looked up when the Rh factor was discovered – 1940. So if this was the reason, medical science in the mountains would certainly not have a cure for this problem. Here’s what a source says:

Karl Landsteiner (1868-1943) discovered the Rh factor—a type of protein, or antigen, on the surface of red blood cells—in 1940. Most people are Rh positive. But if a pregnant woman is Rh negative and her fetus is Rh positive, her body may mount an immune response against the fetus’s blood and cause harm.

Now for something completely different, the next Friends of the Smokies hike will be on Tuesday, December 12  in Elkmont. It’s an easy hike followed by a short tour of the Elkmont houses. Sign up here.